2016-06-08 / Local News

East sophomore lobbies for service-dog access law reform


FAMILY: Parents Eric and Kelly, brothers Danny, 14, Jeremy, 9 and Charlie, 1

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. Beth El

FAVORITE PASTTIMES: Lobbying, arguing and petitioning for change

At 16, Cherry Hill resident Ben Shore is a veteran activist.

It started in the second grade, when young Ben rallied fellow Kellman Brown Academy students on his quest for more basketballs for recess. The effort yielded one more ball.

Last year, 270 supporters signed his petition on change.org, urging the Cherry Hill School Board to end its protracted contract talks with district teachers. While impossible to say what impact his effort had on the talks, the contract was settled through mediation in the fall.

The East sophomore’s latest campaign to reform New Jersey’s service dog access law is far more personal. Charlie, Ben’s year-old Goldendoodle, inspired this one. Charlie is more than a mere adorable pet; he’s a doctor-prescribed service dog who has undergone months of training to help Ben deal with his panic attacks, which are often triggered by new or unfamiliar situations.

“He’s my best friend,” said Ben, who is also on the autistic spectrum. “He’s my brother and my hero. Charlie has made me independent. I’m not scared to do anything as long as I have him by my side.”

Before Charlie entered his life, said Ben, he was on eight different medications. He endured numerous punishing side effects from the medications, including headaches and tics. Since Charlie’s arrival, he’s weaned down to three.

The canine can actually sense a panic attack coming on before Ben is even aware of his symptoms. Still, Charlie is only an effective companion when he is actually with Ben. So when Ben and his father Eric were told that Charlie couldn’t accompany them on a flight home from Florida recently, the potential for a serious conflict flared.

Thankfully, the situation resolved itself when the Shores called the police. Florida is one of 39 states in which it is a criminal offense to deny a service dog access to a public building or area subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act. A business that denies access to a person and service dog is subject to offenses, including misdemeanor charges.

A little education, backed by muscle, went a long way in this case, and the Shores made it on their flight home with time to spare. Back home, Ben discovered that New Jersey does not have a similar law on the books. Moreover, people and service dogs that have faced similar scenarios have had little recourse to being denied access to buildings and public places.

“Service Dog Central, (a national advocacy group) does not recognize New Jersey as a service dog friendly state,” he said. “Why can’t I have the same protections in my own state as in 39 other states?”

His efforts to change the law once again include a change.org petition, (https://www.change.org/p/robert-menendez-improve-new-jersey-service-dog-...) signed by 368 people as of press time. He has met with Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn, Senator James Beach (D-NJ) and has reached out to state Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D-6) and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-6), urging them to write a law.

Raymond H. Woods III, legislative aide for Greenwald and Lampitt, said a proposal is in the works.

“We have been working with Ben on crafting legislation to offer individuals with service animals immediate recourse when they are denied access to a public area or building,” Woods stated by email. “The bill is still currently in the drafting process.”

Inspired by both his lawyer dad and personal experiences, Ben says he wants to become a lawyer specializing in disability law.

In the meantime, Ben is busy. The owner of Benji’s Dogs (www.Mrbenjy77.wix.com/doggy), a dog walking and weekend doggy day care business, he employs five people part time to walk dogs. His employees, fellow teenagers who love dogs, have been trained in CPR and have undergone training in basic skills for dog walking and how to address dog behavior issues.

He is also conducting research about the effectiveness of service training laws on the books in New Jersey in the hopes of publishing in an academic journal and helping train service dogs.

In addition, Ben is a prolific contributor to his YouTube channel.

“Any East news that happens, I’m usually the first person to get it (on the Internet,)” he said. s

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